No more love handles! This skin patch uses tiny needles to “dissolve” fat with nanoparticles

A patch worn on the skin could “burn” away fat without dieting, gruelling exercise or even surgery. 

No more love handles! This skin patch uses tiny needles to

Researchers in North Carolina have developed a medicated skin patch that claims to transform white fat into brown fat, effectively “melting” fat away from specific areas of the body, while raising the body’s overall metabolism.

In a study, published in ACS Nano, the team said the patch could be used to burn pockets of unwanted fat such as “love handles” and treat metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes – in mice, at least.

Humans have two types of fat – white fat that stores excess energy in large so-called “triglyceride droplets” and brown fat, made of smaller droplets and a higher number of mitochondria that burn fat to produce heat. We’re all born with higher levels of brown fat to protect us from the cold, but we lose it as we age (unless we live in colder climates).

 If a pill or treatment can easily transform an adult’s white fat into brown fat, a process known as browning, it could be the holy grail in the fight against rising obesity levels and diabetes, and researchers have been hunting for this solution for years. 

In the recent Carolina study, the team, led by assistant professor of pathology Li Qiang, encased browning drugs inside nanoparticles – each around 250 nanometers in diameter. These nanoparticles were loaded into a centimetre-square skin patch containing microscopic needles. When applied to skin, the needles painlessly pierce the skin and release the drug from nanoparticles into the underlying tissue.

“There are several clinically available drugs that promote browning, but all must be given as pills or injections,” said Dr Qiang at Columbia University Medical Centre. “This exposes the whole body to the drugs, which can lead to side effects such as stomach upset, weight gain, and bone fractures. Our skin patch appears to alleviate these complications by delivering most drugs directly to fat tissue.”

“The nanoparticles were designed to effectively hold the drug and then gradually collapse, releasing it into nearby tissue in a sustained way instead of spreading the drug throughout the body quickly,” added patch designer and study co-leader Zhen Gu, at the University of North Carolina.

During trials, patches containing two compounds – either rosiglitazone (Avandia) or beta-adrenergic receptor agonist (CL 316243) – were stuck to obese mice. Each mouse was given two patches, one loaded with drug-containing nanoparticles and another without the drug, placed on either side of the lower abdomen. New patches were applied every three days for four weeks. Control mice were given two empty patches.

Mice treated with either of the two drugs lost 20% of fat on the treated side compared to the untreated side. They also had significantly lower fasting blood glucose levels than untreated mice.

“Many people will no doubt be excited to learn that we may be able to offer a noninvasive alternative to liposuction for reducing love handles,” says Dr. Qiang. “What’s much more important is that our patch may provide a safe and effective means of treating obesity and related metabolic disorders such as diabetes.”

The researchers are quick to note that the patch has not been tested in humans or larger mammals and they’re currently studying which drugs, or combination of drugs, work best to promote localised browning and increase overall metabolism in other animals. 

Image: CUMC

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